Greetings and salutations, dear readers! Welcome to the second installment of my “Artists To Watch” series for 2020. This month I’m pleased to feature singer-songwriter, guitarist, violinist, foodie and family man Matt Steady.
Matt is from England, so that means you have to read the rest of this article with an English accent.
He and his wife, Abi, and their kids currently make their home in Leicester, which is about 100 miles slightly northwest of London and about an hour’s drive east of Birmingham. As a child Matt spent 4 years living in the African nation of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) before his parents moved them back to England. They moved around different parts of the U.K. a lot after that due to his father’s career. Eventually Matt decided to settle down in Leicester after meeting Abi at university there.
Matt says he’s been in music for pretty much his entire life, but it’s only been within the last 4 or 5 years that he left a career in the IT (information technology) field to pursue music full time. His musical training includes singing in church as a young boy and taking violin and piano lessons. He credits his secondary school piano teacher as having the biggest impact on him as a musician, but not necessarily in the way you might think: “After having piano lessons with him for many years, and reaching quite a proficient standard at grade 7, he finally despaired and told me I wasn’t musical – I was just clever and could learn to play notes on rote but I’d never be anything more. So I did my grade 8 on violin to show him, and now that I’m a professional musician I have to say I do have quite a lot of satisfaction in proving him wrong. Also I guess I’m actually grateful for his words as they provided a spur!” Matt recounts.
It was also as a teenager that Matt picked up the guitar and taught himself how to play, with a little help from some books and also by playing along with records and tapes. (For you young’uns, records and tapes are what us old folks used to use to listen to music. We didn’t have any of that streaming stuff back then!). Nowadays he also plays viola, uilleann pipes (Irish bagpipes), tin whistle, mandolin, cittern (see pic below) and piano/keyboards.
Matt goes on to talk about his musical influences: “Eric Clapton was the driving force behind me wanting to learn to play guitar. Since then there have been so many, from lots of different genres. I discovered folk really quite late on, starting with the Levellers – I’d been playing blues and rock for a long time before that. Show of Hands and Seth Lakeman need an honourable mention for sending me down that track after seeing them live. Love a bit of country – Gretchen Peter’s lyrics I find inspirational. Love a bit of prog – I think modern-day Marillion (phase 2 with H) is one of the best live bands out there. Musically, vocally, lyrically – a go to for me to get inspired. Mark Knopfler is also a particular favourite.”
Fast forward to 2020, and Matt has released 6 albums so far, the latest one being “Chasing Down Wolves” which he released just this past fall (2019). When I asked him to describe his musical style, Matt responded: “It changes slightly every album. The last album “Chasing Down Wolves” I’d label Celtic Folk. It’s really quite different to most folk that you’ll hear, but that’s the closest I can get to. The album before I would label as Celtic Blues – I played more guitar on that one and it was more of a merging of the two genres. I don’t ever want to do two albums that sound exactly the same back on back, and I could even see myself doing a heavy album at some point. I’m currently working on laid-back instrumentals… who knows what might happen!”
He told me he doesn’t play out live much these days and he doesn’t go on tour, preferring instead to focus on his family when he’s not making music. But he did share a couple stories with me about some past gigs that he did:
“One of my first “gigs” was singing a couple of songs at a BBQ at a pub. I was awful. I’d learnt a wicked guitar solo to a blues song and forgot it half way and broke down. At that stage I hadn’t the experience to be able to just carry on, to laugh with the audience and bring them onto my side. It was excruciating. These days if I go “wrong” it’s actual an opportunity to bring me and the audience closer together and I don’t panic about it.”
Recalling a funnier moment: “I played at one of those town-wide musical festivals where there are about 30 bands or musicians rotating round different venues for a weekend. At one I was playing literally to myself in a tailors shop. Never mind – I enjoyed myself. Halfway through the first song a gang of about 15 kids came in, perhaps about 12 years old? Swaggering in with pizza and chips and looking like they owned the world. They sat down and to their surprise they loved the music. In between verses while still playing with my left hand I would steal their chips with my right hand hah! Then the girls got up and started doing cheerleading at the back of the hall to my music – it was absolutely hilarious. Such a hoot! Lesson learnt – don’t discount an audience too early.”
“Making music that touches people and makes their lives just a little bit better is a real privilege.” – Matt Steady
In talking further with Matt, it occurred to me that his story could resonate with a great many independent artists—as well as entrepreneurs in non-musical fields. He shared a lot of relatable experiences with me that made me think, “if he can do it, so can I!” and I encourage you to take heed of what he shared with me.
For instance, Matt told me there really wasn’t a single defining moment for him with regards to deciding on a career in music; rather: “It was a growing realisation that I could actually do this! I built up my skills and knowledge and following while I was still working in IT (yep back in the days when I could afford to buy instruments!), started saving to tide me over in the transition, then put into motion a plan over a few years to move to doing the music full-time. I’ve got to say at this point that it’s been amazing…I’m such a happier person. Having a creative outlet makes a big difference and working for myself is great. Making music that touches people and makes their lives just a little bit better is a real privilege. And being able to be the main carer for the kids and work in-between the school runs is amazing. I’m so lucky to be able to spend a lot of time with them.”
When he’s not making music, he enjoys sampling different foods of different cultures, reading, martial arts, and playing board games with his family. He’s also a world-champion stick fighter and he holds a Master’s degree in Physics with Space Science and Technology.
I wonder if he and Brian May (Queen’s guitarist and himself an astrophysicist) have ever met. I should’ve asked him.
Anyway, I did ask Matt what advice he’d give to other independent artists out there. His answer
pretty much sums up all one would need to know:
“Forget blasting social media and emails and all that with non-personal blanket links to videos and songs and “Look at me” stuff. Seriously just stop now. People don’t want it. What they want is YOU. They want you to talk to them personally as a human being. They want to see what makes you tick. Your music is, unfortunately, worthless in a monetary sense. Everyone can hear it for free. If you want to make a living from music, get that into your head. What is of great worth is YOU. Your personality and your time. People will support you, yes including with money, if they like YOU. Your music has to be good, but in a way it’s secondary.
“To make a living as an independent musician, you need multiple revenue streams. That’s a posh way for saying you need to be doing different things and getting money in different ways. Gigs, CDs (not so much now because of streaming), downloads (not so much now because of streaming). Mixing/mastering/production/recording for other artists. Social media services. Remote session work. Think outside the box. You have lots of skills! Patreon – wow if you get this right it can be a huge help.
“Give rather than receive. Whatever you do – try and outgive your listeners and buyers. If they buy something, give them free gifts. Make them feel special. Personalised notes, happy birthday messages. Contact them out of the blue. It takes time and effort, but it pays off not only in gaining and retaining listeners and gaining income, but you will make a load of friends and fabulous contacts along the way.”
Wise words, indeed!
Here’s where you can connect with Matt:
https://mattsteady.com – Stream all of his albums on here, plus CDs, downloads, merch etc. Plus you can sign up for his newsletter and get an exclusive download pack of songs and Assorted Stuff.
https://patreon.com/mattsteady – See Matt make all his music from scratch here. He posts a LOT of content, a lot of it exclusive. This is seriously a Billy Bargain. Do it. Do it now!